For a lot of people, going to the dentist can feel like a chore. But at a free clinic in Northeast on Sunday, it felt more like a privilege for many.
For a lot of people, going to the dentist can feel like a chore. But at a free clinic in Northeast D.C. on Sunday, it felt more like a privilege for many.
Crest and Oral-B teamed up with Family Dollar and mobile dentistry clinic KARE to provide free dental screenings to children and families across the country. This weekend, they made their way to the Family Dollar on Rhode Island Avenue NW.
It’s part of an initiative called Closing the Smile Gap, which aims to improve access to dental care, educate children on healthy oral health habits and establish scholarships for underserved dental students.
“In a perfect world, everyone would have access to care and everyone would have knowledge of what’s going on in their own body and in their mouth,” KARE lead dentist Dr. Whitney James said. “We get to provide an avenue for people who otherwise would not have this.”
Nicole Leger was getting coffee in the area with her four-year-old son when she spotted the clinic.
“We stopped to get some toys, and then I said, ‘Why not?’ He was due for his next dental visit, which we hadn’t scheduled yet,” she said.
Leger said she recognizes the significance of having access to free dental care.
“I think it’s really important for me and also for the people living around here, perhaps, that don’t often have the chance of going to the dentist,” Leger said.
Cheya Dixon is the account executive for the Dollar Tree enterprise team. She works with Family Dollar to help identify areas of need where KARE can operate.
“I think it means so much that there’s dental professionals that look like the shoppers that Family Dollar serves,” Dixon said. “I also think it’s just something good for the community to see smiling faces when you think about dentistry, to hear music playing, to have volunteers welcome you … We’re just here to be a force for good, and I think the community really feels that.”
You don’t need insurance or an ID to go to the clinic. Hygienist Stacy Sanders said they don’t turn anyone away — but her favorite patients are kids.
“We feel like … if we give them the foundation, then we can eradicate the 68 million Americans that lacked dental care,” Sanders said. “That number will come down as the population grows.”
The care doesn’t end at the clinic, hygienist Amber Lovatos said. On top of the free screening and fluoride treatment, all patients leave with a toothbrush, toothpaste and informational flyers.
“We tell them specifically what they need and then we give them referrals to places where they might be able to get affordable care,” Lovatos said.
She didn’t have access to proper dental care growing up, which is why she wants to give back now.
“The reason that I lost my teeth as an adult was because I didn’t have care as a child,” Lovatos said. “But it wasn’t because my parents didn’t care about me or because they didn’t love me. They just didn’t have that basic education and understanding.”